Music Reviews



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Artist: Maarten Van Der Vleuten (@)
Title: Are You Worthy?
Format: CD
Label: Tonefloat (@)
Rated: *****
There are three constant factors the industrious Dutch producer Maarten van der Vleuten cannot drop: acid house, a certain bend towards experimentation and (mainly Roland) drum machines. His "masked" superabundant musical production under a number of aliases, releases by glorious techno labels such as Apollo Records, Klang Elektronik, R&S sublabel Test Zone, Outrage Recordings, Djax-Up-Beats, Mighty Robot and ESP and partially reprised on his own imprint Signum Recordings, leant towards Detroit techno and acid house, but included many stylistical tricks and that interbreeding between kicking beats and sandpapered sounds which could be considered one of the possible forerunner of the so-called minimal techno (think about a crossbreed between 808 State and Carl Craig), while when he decided to sign his music by his real name, he moved towards a stronger stress on experimental factor, even though he doesn't abandon his primeval passion for house sounds through-and-through. It's not just a matter of bleaching and dosage, which could be explained by an artistic maturity, as he already signed a remarkable ambient-project called In-Existence in the first 90ies, but the interesting eclectism of "Are You Worthy?" supposedly lies on the intention of keeping on researching new sonic balances within the framework of known stylistical codes (a sort of self-awareness) and the crestfallen awareness that every fashion comes and goes, a kind of awareness which can be frequently experienced by contemporary artist due to the accelerated transience of vogue and the resulting feeling of "obsolescence" of the artist itself, as it seems to resurface from the occasional clues, such as the solipsistic odyssey of the lovely "Note To Self: Aye Aye, Bye Bye" (one of the most touching moment of the entire album) or the hazy post-industrial melancholy of "About Things Left Behind", coming after the initial title-track which sounds like a tuning of that above-mentioned "Self", its reawakening on an intriguing breeze of abstract tribalism for a painstaking examination, and before its temporary eruption on the hypnotic ambient-trance of "Shaped By The Sum Of Habits", which seems to be the peak of a temporary process of rejuvenation. The second part of the release unleashes sonic forces, which confutes and stops that process, but in a very immersive way: the murky speaking spectre (in close relation with the dwarf in a red suit and dress shirt from Twin Peaks?) and its inquiring warning on "Schau Hinein" and the inclement narrative voice of some poisoning super-ego on "Blutige Marie" precede the subtly fiendish drones and the haunting dilutions of "Distorted Soul, Awaken!" and the exhausted lullaby/atonement of 'Hold Me, Comfort Me, Embrace Me', which concludes this catchy inner musical journey.
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Artist: Cut Hands
Title: Black Mamba
Format: CD
Label: Susan Lawly/Very Friendly (@)
Distributor: Cargo Records
Rated: *****
In a 2011 interview with The Quietus (http://thequietus.com/articles/07199-william-bennett-cut-hands-whitehouse-interview), William Bennett talked about the effects of polyrhythms on the nervous system, that when we run out of body parts to move, 'It (the rhythm) goes inside, and things happen inside on a more metaphysical level. And on the more rhythmic tracks that's what I'm attempting.'

Cut Hands is William Bennett's so called 'Afro Noise' project. He's best known as one of noise music's longest contributors, as one half of the duo Whitehouse, formed in 1980. Whitehouse would push audiences to exultant states by use of transgressive sounds, language, imagery; a 30-some year barrage to break down all beliefs, all conditioning, to push someone through to a pure experience. Over the years, what most people have come to think of as 'noise' (power electronics, HNWs, synth explorations, tape collage) has become increasingly easy to assimilate: its the same experience every time. Bennett became wary of the technological arms race of the traditional noiz freak. After experimenting with a DJ night of Vodoun ritual drumming at Glasgow's Optimo club, Bennett realized the ritualistic potency and ability to confound and trance-form, when exposing audiences to the rhythms. He pared his music down to sparse percussive elements, then layered with feedback and buzzy synths.

'Black Mamba' is the second full-length from the project, after last year's 'Afro Noise vol. 1', which made everyone drool. Stripped down and sparse, cut hands weaves layers of djembes, doundouns, ksing-ksing and synths into a hypnotic tapestry that will make yr insides dance, for sure. 'Witness The Spread Of The Dream' kicks things off with a tmantra, read by Mimsy DeBlois, who designed the sweet, sweet voodoo album art, and sounds like a creepy hypnotism loop, until tearing into the pounding tribalism of the title track, that sounds like walking into a voodoo ritual, midstep. This tracks showcases one of the deadly strengths of Cut Hands: the ability to change tempo. Much of this record reads like bleak, gray British techno, but almost all dance music gets caught up in one BPM, one groove, and it takes a real prodigy to make a computer swing like a human. Cut Hands African ritual is the height of complexity, its like trying to count a snowstorm. The rational mind goes to sleep, overwhelmed, allowing for something beautiful and ancient to transpire. This version of 'Black Mamba' is a slight variation on the vinyl edition, released earlier in the year, and answers yet another question; yes, you do need to buy every Cut Hands release.

Its continually inspiring to see people who've been around for a long time constantly reinventing the game. They've had time to master and explore their craft, and sometimes it seems that the post-punk underground has been able to produce a number of downright geniuses. The clubs are perfectly poised to fall for Black Mamba, a part of a number of blackened post-Techno magicians rolling up their sleeves and getting primal. In a world that is predominantly defined by people making similar styles of music with similar gear, there is an increasing demand for electronic music that is homespun, handmade. We are all moving into the Heart Of Darkness, with ritual rhythms lighting up the night with the ghosts of embers. William Bennett, (and Raime, and Ekoplekz, and Shackleton), are sneaking in trance music to the clubs, bringing the ultimate dopamine fix, waking something ancient and powerful. Its coming out of a movement from Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, through '90s industrial music and rave. Its dark and its smart and its arty and its weird; i, for one, have not been this excited about a wave of music for a number of years. Hopefully, Cut Hands continual ascent forces cliche noise bands, as well as electronic producers, to step up their game and not get too fatted. And also hopefully, this decadent ritual will continue to spread.
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Artist: Total Science presents /VV.AA. (@)
Title: Tuned In 2
Format: CD
Label: C.I.A. (@)
Rated: *****
More than ten years after the first sampler, which fully uncovered their wide-opened vision on drum'n'bass, one of the most prolific and innovative British dnb producers, Jason Greenhalgh and Paul Smith, who paired up under the lucky moniker Total Science, delivers their renowned perspective by means of their notorious label C.I.A., whose acronym means Computer Integrated Audio and doesn't have any reference to that club of dangerous Peeping Toms, who usually bothers our planet with their megalomaniac spy perversions. Even if the above-mentioned first release was certainly more seminal, "Tuned In 2" seems to suggest many possible sylistical pathways, which sometimes bridge the gap between old school and new sounds besides pleasing many dnb listeners due to the wide range of styles it explores. Although soulful dnb (that stuff some hotheads and imps ironically connects with the sampler which enhances the productivity of gay bartenders) is not my favorite one, I could state the obvious when I ascertain the high quality of such tunes: the astonishing sentimental digression by Sinistar & Grimm, which is going to surprise those ones who knew the couple through harsher tracks such as "Dead Idolz" or other hard tracks by Jeremy Howard aka Sinistarr for the unavoidable influences from Detroit techno, on "Anything" alternates piano-driven sentimental moments with more popping parts, which both mantain a certain "Detroitesque" terseness, and such a duality comes out from other sweataned tracks such as "Lowend theory", a track signed by the impressive collaboration of one half of Total Science, J.R.Greenhalgh, aka Q Project and 8 Bits, who spill acid rains from the initial pink synth cloud, or "Stolen Moments" where Total Science integrate jump-up engines on Riya's enticing singing and synth-piano spotty melodies. Beyond more mysterious and "gothic" tunes such as the gloomy "Dream Demon" by Spirit - integrating Upbeats-like grime with mayhem sounds -, the entrancing "Trust" by French-born producer and MC Proktah, who combines grinding neurofunk beats with a foggy atmosphere, which could evoke a nuclear holocaust, the exquisitely suffocating sounds on Break's "Slipstream" or the nice metallic and gummy beat rolling on Fracture's "The Breaks", there are many tracks, which cling more tightly to my eardrums: my favorite one is the intial remix of Total Science & S.P.Y.'s "Past Lives" by Lenzman, who perfectly balance liquid funk, jump-up, uplifting tones and the vocal floating by Kevin King, but the snapping crystalline jump on "Clipper Man" by Calibre, the somewhat epic Riya's song "Cold Blooded" by Total Science, Break's "floral" contagious remix of Total Science's "Going In Circles" and the final dry and high jumping beats by Beta 2 on "Perceptions" stay at close range in my personal rank. A split version on vynil of "Tuned In 2" is also available. Just turn on, tune in and move out!
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Artist: Sutcliffe Jugend (@)
Title: Blue Rabbit
Format: CD
Label: Crucial Blast (@)
Chances are you're much more familiar with (the previous works of) Sutcliffe Jugend than I am, which is to say, very little. Rather than rehash Kevin Tomkin and Paul Taylor's previous noise/power electronics history, let me just say that 'Blue Rabbit' seems to be quite different than anything else they've attempted. It's sort of an ambient album, with a certain amount of subtlety for these guys, although it's chock full of electro-acoustic sounds. Musically, it's not far removed from some of the releases on Vresnit's Vetvei label but there is an insidious creepiness throughout the eight tracks of this little over an hour soundscape that makes it extremely unsettling. There is also an undercurrent of vocal recitation that occasionally surfaces, that has something to do with the abominable short story inside the digipak involving a little girl and her pink and blue stuffed rabbits. It's a depraved tale of self-mutilation that will make you reconsider the innocence of stuffed bunnies and/or little girls. For me, this became a little too problematic to appreciate the album as its theme and soundscape are so intertwined.

It's really too much to describe everything on this album, but the last track, 'The Death of Pornography' deserves some description. It employs several different types of staticy noises, drones, small feedback bursts, rattling, child voices, sustained string plucks, that (aforementioned) vocal recitation, electronic sounds, flutey intonations, a stuttering harmonica, and eventually, what sounds like a mournful goose honking intermittently. It's weird, and cacophonous, but still brilliant in a way. Perhaps that's what I find so disturbing about this album. If it weren't for this thread of child-mutilating psychosis thematically woven throughout 'Blue Rabbit' I'd be inclined to laud it as a commednable work, but as is, I cannot condone it or recommend it.
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Artist: T.O.M.B.
Title: UAG (Uncovered Ancient Gateways)
Format: CD
Label: Crucial Blast (@)
Rated: *****
I used to attempt to wax eloquent in reviews, a meager outlet for creative writing and musical insight. But not no more, not after this album. Being totally unprepared for T.O.M.B. (Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy) and with not much frame of reference for this kind of noize, I have to say I was steamrolled by it, nearly literally, or at least my ears were. As I understand, T.O.M.B. Has its roots in Black Metal, but this doesn't sound like any Black Metal I've ever come across. Ritualized harsh noise ambient might be a more accurate assessment, pervasive throughout 'UAG'.

The rather lengthy description on the one-sheet that accompanied this monstrosity is a much better review than I ever could have written, and I am not inclined to plagiarize or paraphrase it, not because I don't agree with it (it is mostly spot-on) but because after experiencing this morbid noisefest, I just don't have the energy. Allegedly (hey, I wasn't there, who knows for sure?) these are field recordings made in abandoned sanitariums, morgues, crypts, and other creepy places , often banging on the walls of the structures and making use of their natural reverberation. Some of the distortion in the recording could be attributed to that. This is a hell-ride to be sure, with bits of industrial mechanical sounds, electronics and processing as a subtext for the brutal pounding. There a few quieter moments when 'UAG' resembles something close to Dark Ambient, but they don't last long. Actually, for a noise album this is kind of multi-faceted and creative, and I can tell a lot of energy and work went into this. There are parts that seem like they could fall into the avant-garde, and for harsh noise enthusiasts, it could actually grow on you.

At first it was unclear to me whether T.O.M.B. is a collective of participants or just one guy guy running around at night breaking into the haunts of the insane and the dead to work his demonic aural visions. Then the name Jack Gannon (aka No One) surfaced, previously with Goreaphobia, Deteriorate, Zahgurim, Hazarax, and Mourn Thy Passing (formerly Cemetery Earth), Death Metal bands near Philly, PA. So T.O.M.B. Is Gannon's project or No One's, if it's any one's at all. With those bands he mostly contributed vocals, but it would seem as though his talents have been better utilized here. Any vocal contributions to this album though will hardly be recognized from his previous work.

One particularly disturbing aspect of this album is the track 'Cadaver Transmissions' in which supposedly a contact mike was rubbed against an actual dead body. Well, there are scraping sounds, but puleeze! How far into the morbidity tables does an artist need to delve for authenticity's sake? Purists will love it though, I suppose.

'UAG' is a tough 63 minutes to digest, but noise enthusiasts should have a field day with a smorgasbord of raucous racquet, cavernous cacophony, and putrid pandemonium. Since this album has been out awhile, I've had the opportunity to read some reviews, and all were very positive, no one panned it. I'm not going to either. I wouldn't dare, even if it's not my cup of meat. Great graphics on the digipak and booklet though. Recommended only to those who fear not to tread the path where No One (else) will go.
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